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Weighing the energy alternatives: WIND  

Carpinteria CEO envisions a future powered by turbines. With oil and gas prices relentlessly rising -- and the cost of producing power from sustainable energy sources continuing to fall -- it appears the time is fast approaching when alternative energy begins to make good economic as well as environmental sense.

And at the point where those two lines intersect, you will likely find wind power pioneer Jim Dehlsen waiting with the confidence of a man who knows his time has finally come.

Though Mr. Dehlsen has already enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame several times over since he began using wind to generate electricity 25 years ago, he is especially excited about the prospects for Carpinteria-based Clipper Windpower.

As the world stumbles along from one energy crisis to the next, Mr. Dehlsen, Clipper’s founder, chairman and chief executive officer, believes his technology, coupled with growing public and political support for wind generation, will be a key part of any fresh energy solution.

In 1980, while living in the Santa Ynez Valley, he founded Zond Corp., the first wind company to add power to the electricity grids in California. He moved the company to Goleta before selling to Enron in 1997; Zond’s assets were later acquired by General Electric when it bought what was left of that piece of Enron.

When Mr. Dehlsen started in this business, the concept of harnessing the wind’s kinetic energy and converting it into electrons was not only expensive, but also impractical.

Even a decade ago, wind-generated electricity was still twice as expensive as energy from fossil fuels.

But today, the cost has been trimmed to between 4.5 cents and 5.5 cents per kilowatt, making it a viable alternative in the eyes of many utilities, according to Mr. Dehlsen; and as fossil fuels grow increasingly scarce and expensive, wind power becomes even more attractive.

On its Web site, Clipper says the world market for wind power grew threefold between 1999 and 2004; the company says wind power is worth more than $9 billion per year and is projected to grow at an annual rate of 15 percent to 25 percent for the next five years.

And there’s plenty of scope for wind power in Santa Barbara and throughout the West. The federal Bureau of Land Management alone plans to pave the way for development of an additional 3,200 megawatts of wind energy on public lands in 11 Western states, with California accounting for 1,400 megawatts.

In 2000, wind power in California produced 3.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, about 1.27 percent of the state’s total electricity, according to the California Energy Commission.

More than 13,000 of California’s wind turbines, or 95 percent of all of California’s wind-generating capacity and output, are in three main regions: Altamont, outside the Bay Area; Tehachapi, in the bottom of the San Joaquin Valley; and San Gorgonio, in the high desert.

The Air Force has looked at several sites for wind turbines on its expansive Vandenberg Air Force Base, following the lead of successful wind programs at other bases such as Edwards, in the California desert, and Dyess, in Texas. Meanwhile, private interests have studied possible turbine sites in areas just outside Vandenberg.

While some people don’t like the sight of wind farms or collections of wind turbines dotting the landscape, Mr. Dehlsen says they are NIMBY objectors, not environmentalists.

"I don’t think we have the luxury of thinking that way," says Mr. Dehlsen, who views the energy debate in the wider context of instability and hostility in many oil-producing parts of the world, global warming and extreme weather events here and overseas.

His comments echoed those made recently at a congressional hearing in Washington by Rebecca Watson, assistant secretary of the interior for land and minerals management, discussing a study on the effects of developing wind energy on public lands.

"Our quality of life and economic security are dependent on a stable and abundant supply of affordable energy," she said. "Encouraging the production and development of renewable energy sources, including wind energy, on our public lands is a way to help meet the energy needs of the nation."

Mr. Dehlsen says those who understand wind power are very supportive and realize that with any kind of power generation, there’s going to be something to look at, such as power lines. Farmers, feeling the pressure of making a living off the land, are especially enthusiastic.

He says farmers love the extra income from having a few turbines parked on their land, while even critics complaining about the visual issues are likely to become more accepting as the price of conventional power increases.

A single turbine can produce energy equivalent to 1,000 barrels of oil per month. So a farmer with just three machines can produce as much energy as 1 million barrels over the 30-year design life of the turbines.

"We have the ability to harness enough wind in the U.S. to supply one-third of our electricity," says Mr. Dehlsen, adding that the current figure is around 0.5 percent.

What helps make that a realistic goal is the latest generation of wind turbines, the Liberty, a $2.5 million giant that stands taller than the Statue of Liberty and which Mr. Dehlsen says can generate more power more cheaply than anything else on the market.

The secret is a new type of drivetrain with four separate generators that is able to harness the energy produced even by relatively low wind speeds.

This, says Mr. Dehlsen, effectively increases the potential geography for the turbines twentyfold.

Four years after Clipper was started, the company has embarked on a dual strategy of establishing facilities to manufacture and assemble its wind turbines while actively partnering in wind farm projects.

Clipper recently opened its first such facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where it expects to crank up production to 250 turbines by 2007, at which point the company expects to be employing about 140 people there. Current staffing stands at around 60, two-thirds of them in Carpinteria.

The company’s latest business model explores ways in which to leverage its expertise and experience in energy production so that it can combine management and operational roles with an 8 percent to 10 percent ownership slice in each project.

http://news.newspress.com/topsports/112805energy21.htm

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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